Young Scientist Alumni Shares Her Latest Adventures, Dreams for the Future

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Thirteen-year-old Anna Du of Andover, Mass., impressed us in 2018 with her underwater vehicle that detects microplastics on the ocean floor. We recently caught up with her to hear about the enhancements made to her innovation since the Young Scientist Challenge finals and the exciting projects she has been working on since then – from school science fairs to advanced math to a memoir! We love seeing our alumni like Anna pursue their passions, and can’t wait to see what she achieves next.

So much has happened in life in the five months since my wonderful experience at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. It has been quite the rollercoaster ride, and the opportunities seem to keep coming as time goes on. I truly have the competition to thank for all of it.

Through chatting with my fellow 3M alums and other friends across the country, I discovered it is yet again science fair season. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, dig into new research models and try out some new ideas. I personally have spent a huge amount of personal time delving into some heavy-duty math and learning more about AI “deep learning” models.

I realized that, in so many ways, a little math and science goes a long way. I used machine learning and image processing large amounts of data to exponentially improve the accuracy of my microplastic detection system – the one I presented at 3M’s Headquarters as a finalist back in October 2018 – in just a few short months. It’s been pretty challenging to learn math that is above my grade level, but the results are really worth it. I also incorporated some novel filtering concepts my 3M mentor introduced me to; I didn’t have enough time to include it in my project earlier. I am inspired to keep improving my project well into the future – maybe all the way to MIT!

Recently, I competed in my school science fair, and I just heard that I will represent my school at Regionals.

Thanks to 3M, I’ve received many calls from groups interested in learning about my innovation, partnering with me on projects, or even offering me speaking engagements around the world. I was invited to a few lectures – one is at an all-girls school for ages Pre-K to 12th in New Jersey and another at a STEM conference in Czech Republic!

A couple weeks ago, I presented at an event where I had the chance to meet CEOs and inventors who all encouraged me to keep pursuing my project through new engineering avenues. It was so inspiring and such an honor to meet these influential thinkers.

The latest big news is that I got a book deaI! I am writing a book from my own perspective: it is about a student working on a science project to help solve a global problem. I hope it will inspire more young children (especially young girls!) to enter science and engineering competitions.

I hope that, in addition to making more students aware of the many benefits of project-based learning, I can educate people about the true dangers of microplastics and other pollutants in the ocean. Whether people choose to do a science project to address this problem, or simply change their daily habits when it comes to single-use plastics, or make ethical decisions about using more recycled/natural polymers in manufacturing (like 3M does!), we can all do our part.

As part of this project, I will be doing a book and lecture tour later in the year and donating books to school districts in need! I even started a Kickstarter campaign to assist with these efforts.

Thanks again to 3M and Discovery Education for giving me this platform that has resulted in so many amazing opportunities already – I hope that my project will help make a difference in the world, one way or another.